Takeaways from busy hoops day: Kentucky’s loss to Ohio State just bump in the road

Tyler Ulis, diving for the ball against Ohio State's Marc Loving, is Kentucky's most important player.

Anthony Gruppuso/Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Saturday was hands-down the best day of the college basketball season so far.

Twenty-two of the teams in the Top 25 were playing, including four matchups between two ranked teams (North Carolina-UCLA, Virginia-Villanova, Purdue-Butler and Baylor-Texas A&M). Two of college hoops’ bluebloods, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 7 Duke, lost on the same day. It was the first time in college hoops history those two programs lost to unranked opponents on the same day while ranked in the top 10.

Here are 10 big takeaways from a day that was filled with them:

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Kentucky’s loss to Ohio State changes absolutely nothing about how I feel about these Wildcats.

Yes, I understand that Ohio State was 5-5 going into this game with losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech and that Kentucky’s talent level is a couple of tiers above Ohio State’s. But I felt exactly the same about Kentucky Saturday night as I did Friday night. The Wildcats are young, as always, and they are absurdly talented, as always. And the team has issues, which is something we already knew.

Skal Labissiere still just doesn’t look tough enough for college ball, much less the NBA. (Two points, five rebounds.) Isaiah Briscoe can occasionally look like this backcourt’s weak link. (Three points on 1-of-9 shooting.) Jamal Murray is this team’s best player. (A career-high 33 points with a silly second-half streak of seven 3-pointers.) Tyler Ulis is this team’s most important player. And this team too often finds itself standing around on offense and not showing enough hustle on defense.

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As for Saturday? Saturday just wasn’t their day. It was a rugby match of a basketball game: Too many good shots rimmed out for Kentucky. Too many bad shots were taken by Kentucky. Too many Ohio State prayers were answered. Too often I wanted to bottle up Alex Poythress’ energy, put it in an elixir and give it to the rest of the team.

I saw a tweet during the second half (by the news editor of Kentucky Sports Radio) that was the most alarming thing I’ve heard about this team. "When UK is out of sync like this it reminds me of 2012-2013, except it’s Isaiah Briscoe instead of Archie Goodwin," tweeted @MrsTylerKSR.

In the moment, that was true. But this team is not like that NIT team. I believe in John Calipari’s five-month process, and these players do, too. If anything, I think this team will be like the team from 2013-14, which had plenty of bumps on the road to March but then tore through the NCAA Tournament on the way to the national title game.

They may have been Yucky Kentucky on Saturday, but this team will only keep getting better. I don’t care if they’re a 10-loss team come Selection Sunday (which they won’t be); the Kentucky Wildcats should still be considered a national title contender.

Here’s what Calipari said after the game: "We’re not as good as we were a year ago. I still think we’re good enough to do good things, but we must play to win."

Exactly.

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Louisville, one of the dark-horse teams of this college basketball season, is in injury trouble.

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Mangok Mathiang — who along with fellow 6-10 big man Chinanu Onuaku has made Louisville one of the better rebounding and shot-blocking teams in the country — broke his foot in Louisville’s home win over Western Kentucky and will be out as long as two months.

It could hardly have come at a worse time for Louisville: a week before the in-state rivalry game with Kentucky and just before starting conference play.

Nobody gave Louisville a shot before the season other than coach Rick Pitino, who loved his team. It has been an overachieving group; no, they haven’t played many top-notch games, but the Cardinals looked great in their only defeat, a down-to-the-wire loss to the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Michigan State.

I know Mathiang isn’t a star, but don’t underestimate his impact on this team — especially when Louisville faces a team like Kentucky at Rupp Arena the day after Christmas.

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Could Georgetown miss the NCAA tournament?

It’s definitely possible after the Hoyas dropped their fifth game of the non-conference schedule. Yes, there are a couple of decent wins on the Hoyas’ resume — over Wisconsin and Syracuse — but those are far overshadowed by the bad losses: the season opener to Radford (ranked 202nd on KenPom.com) and Saturday’s loss to UNC-Asheville (148th on KenPom.com). And that’s not even counting the blowout home loss to Monmouth, because at this point Monmouth feels like an at-large NCAA tournament team.

Weird thing is, I still think Georgetown has the potential to win the Big East. This is a team that lost to Maryland and Duke by a combined six points. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is one of the better point guards in the country. Bradley Hayes has been a wonderful surprise in the post during his senior season. And talented sophomores L.J. Peak and Isaac Copeland have been solid. But this team has dug itself an early hole. The Hoyas will need to perform in a Big East that is stacked toward the top.

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We may have seen Indiana turn a corner.

CHEER ON!

With 16:43 left in the game Saturday, Indiana trailed by 16 points after Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson made a bucket. This was sounding like a five-alarm fire for Tom Crean’s team, which had yet to secure a signature non-conference win (and had already dropped games to Wake Forest, UNLV and Duke).

And then? Indiana started getting some stops on defense, ended the game on a 17-2 run, beat Notre Dame and in so doing may have turned its season around.

When you look at Indiana’s next eight games — where the toughest challenges, against Wisconsin and Ohio State, are both at home — you can see a path from 8-3 heading into the Notre Dame game to 17-3 by late January. If that happens, the Hoosiers will be sitting pretty, likely back in the top 10 or so and in the Final Four discussion. For a team that has struggled so mightily on defense this year, that’s an enormous turnaround.

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I’m not sure exactly what to take away from Utah’s upset win over No. 7 Duke on Saturday.

But a few things that pop to mind: Duke isn’t going to win many games when it gets outrebounded by 18. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl is the best player west of the Rockies (with apologies to Jaylen Brown and Kyle Wiltjer). Senior Amile Jefferson is the most important player on a young, talented Duke team, and his fractured foot is a big, big problem. Utah is going to win the Pac-12.

Brandon Ingram is right now the only player I’d even consider taking over Ben Simmons on the NBA draft (although no one is going to get taken over Ben Simmons in the NBA draft). Grayson Allen has now shrunk from the two biggest spotlights of his season: against Kentucky in Chicago’s United Center (2-of-11 shooting for six points), and against Utah at Madison Square Garden (3-of-18 shooting for seven points). I think those two duds should be enough to take his name out of the Player of the Year discussion.

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A month from now, we’ll be knee-deep in Marcus Paige Player of the Year speculation.

Did you see what Paige did on Saturday, when UNC trailed UCLA by 11 before running away with the game and winning by 13? No, I don’t mean just looking at the box score, which showed Paige as a solid contributor (10 points, six assists, four rebounds) who was overshadowed by teammate Brice Johnson (27 points and nine rebounds).

I mean, did you really watch Marcus Paige? He is the heart and soul of this team, the main reason UNC is able to wear down opponents with such fast-paced basketball. The ways he sees the court, the smart plays he makes off instinct and the clutch 3-point shooting. I’m not sure there’s one player on a national title contender who is as important to his team as Paige is to UNC. When Bill Raftery compared him to former Ohio State star Mike Conley Jr. on Saturday, it rang true.

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Virginia is playing like a 1 seed.

In a season filled with uncertainty, Tony Bennett’s methodical, mature Virginia team is one of the few things we can count on. I wondered heading into the season how Virginia’s slow-paced crew would adapt to this new faster college game, with a 30-second shot clock and tighter enforcement of defensive fouls. The answer? The Cavs look exactly the same.

They handled Villanova Saturday at home in a win that’ll only solidify Virginia’s spot atop the KenPom.com rankings. The Wahoos are still slow (348th in the country in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.com), but you know what? This is one of the few slow-paced basketball teams that’s a joy to watch. It’s beautiful basketball. I love how much Virginia fans appreciate it when their team does one of the things it does better than any other team in college hoops: force shot-clock violations.

This team knows its identity better than any other team in college basketball. Oh, and by the way: Malcolm Brogdon deserves to be in the crowded Player of the Year discussion as well.

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Wichita State is the best 5-5 team I’ve ever seen.

Yes, the Shockers dropped a road game in overtime Saturday to a decent Seton Hall team. And yes, that’s one more black mark against a Wichita State team with an NCAA Tournament resume that won’t have many opportunities to improve come conference play. There’s not a single game left on the Shockers’ schedule against a team currently ranked in the top 60 on KenPom.com.

But I still like this team. I really do. Wichita State may very well need to win the Missouri Valley tournament in order to secure a bid in the Big Dance, though the tournament selection committee should take into consideration that point guard and leader Fred VanVleet was out for the team’s first four losses and that transfer Anton Grady only played 16 minutes on Saturday in his first game since a scary spinal injury nearly a month ago. For the first time since its Final Four run in 2013, Gregg Marshall’s team has a chance to sneak up on people — and I think it’ll operate well from that position. Do not be surprised if this team that struggled in non-conference is again a force in March.

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Chris Mack may have the best team in Xavier history.

This may be me being captive of the moment. But circle this date on your calendar: Dec. 31. (Wait, that’s New Year’s Eve, you already circled that.) If Xavier beats Villanova on the road in its Big East opener on New Year’s Eve, we can start calling the Musketeers a national title contender.

At 11-0, this is already the best start in program history. This team has balance, experience, depth and a great point guard in freshman Edmund Sumner. All of this in a season that CBS’s Seth Davis has perfectly summed up this way: "The world is flat."

There are lots of good teams this season, but no great ones. Xavier is one of a dozen or so teams in the country you could call a very good team at this point. This sounds like a formula for Xavier’s first Final Four appearance.

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Bill Self looks primed to continue the most impressive current streak in sports.

It is not exactly a headline that Kansas whooped Montana at home by 42 points. It is a headline that the recently suspended Brannen Greene is back, and on Saturday shot 3-of-4 from three. Greene may be the nation’s best 3-point shooter.

Kansas has the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in all of college basketball, hitting threes at a 45.8 percent clip. Now that Cheick Diallo is eligible and Greene is back, this deep, balanced, experienced team doesn’t have a single weakness. Also, this is Self’s fastest-paced team in his Kansas career, which comes as college basketball as a whole is moving toward a speedier tempo. Self is going to win his 12th straight Big 12 title, which is ridiculous. He also might get his second national title, too.

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.